Know that you are another world in miniature and have in you Sol and Luna and even the stars.
The earth looked at from Heaven is like a ball with twelve leathern Stripes, each in a different colour...
~ Plato the Timaeus
When the astrologer studies a horoscope, he or she is looking at a map of a unique combination of four essential components. The planets represent psychological urges or functions – different kinds of energies and needs – or we might think of them as the main characters in an individual life drama, the entity or ‘god’ that invokes the action. The signs indicate the way in which a planetary energy will tend to express itself; the signs modulate planetary expression by giving the background themes of the drama and the unique qualities or ways of being. The houses locate the action in specific areas of life, such as home, career and relationships. And the aspects articulate the story line through planetary relationships: this is the inner dialogue – the planets ‘speaking to each other’ – that fuels the individual story and manifests through the talents, strengths, weaknesses, conflicts and aspirations which lie within and drive an individual’s life drama.
The Building Blocks
The 12-fold circle of the zodiac contains within it some obvious geometrical truths of nature: there are four elements – Fire, Earth, Air and Water – and three modes of expression or phases of operation – Cardinal, Fixed and Mutable. Cardinal energy has an initiating quality; when the Sun enters the Cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn), a definite shift occurs: a new season begins. Fixed energy has a consolidating and maintaining quality; each season comes to its fullest expression when the Sun travels through these signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius). Mutable energy has a disseminating quality; as the Sun moves through these signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces) we can feel that change is in the air and the seasons are making way for a new phase. Each group of three signs of the same element is termed a Triplicity; and each group of four signs of the same mode or quality is termed a Quadruplicity. But before we look at the zodiac signs in more detail, a word about typology, or the science of categorising human nature.
The idea of typology, or classifying people according to different qualities, goes back a long way. The ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles was one of the originators of the view that the universe is made up of fire, earth, air and water. Medieval thinkers applied this idea further in their recognition of four basic temperaments based on the theory of the ‘humours’ in the blood: the choleric (fiery) type, the melancholic (earthy) type, the sanguine (airy) type, and the phlegmatic (watery) type. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung continued these observations this century with a more sophisticated psychological lens, to show that people apparently do tend to operate in life according to one or two dominant functions. Jung’s four classifications link up exactly with the four medieval types, and he postulates them as intuition (the fiery type), sensation (the earthy type), thinking (the airy type) and feeling (the watery type). Different cultures throughout the centuries have categorised human beings according to different values and viewpoints, but always and everywhere underlying our predisposition to categorise is the awareness and fascination about difference and sameness.
Generally speaking, most people don’t like been ‘classified’ because it feels like an insult to one’s uniqueness. But uniqueness, or rather, a truly actualised individuality, does not come with the mere fact of being born. We are potential individuals – individuals in the making. The fact that people can be ‘grouped’ does not deny uniqueness; rather, it affirms the fact that we inherently share certain characteristics with others, that we have strengths and weaknesses to work with, and – most importantly – that not everybody is the same as us. What is also important to understand is that each of us has all the elements (or psychological functions if we are equating with Jung’s four typologies) within us, regardless of the fact that we feel most confident using only one or two of them most of the time. The development of our unique individuality demands that we take a closer look at the least familiar or ‘evolved’ bits of ourselves – and astrology is one of the ancient disciplines that can help us do that.
The four elements are of special interest to astrologers for each one represents a distinct way of viewing, approaching, evaluating and interpreting life. The four elements (and the twelve signs) are also classified according to the most basic of all polarities: yin and yang, feminine and masculine, negative and positive. The yin elements and signs are more passive, introverted, contained, self-reflective, whilst the yang elements and signs are more active, extroverted, outwardly dynamic and assertive. The planets feel more or less at home in different elements; that is, their energies will be moderated and expressed according to the element (and sign) they occupy in the birth chart. The elements are allocated in an orderly sequence around the zodiac, starting with the fire sign Aries and repeating the pattern fire, earth, air, water, three times, as seen in Figure 6.1.
Fire – Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
Fire is the most ‘yang’ of the two masculine or positive elements. It illumines and transforms’; it burns and is unpredictable, unstable, but also warming, exciting and creative. A fiery temperament is essentially positive, extrovert, pushing ahead into life, and motivating other through the sheer force of charismatic confidence. A strongly fire type tends to be demonstrative, dramatic, intense. These individuals have a strong intuitive side: they ‘sense’ when to make important moves and often manage to be in the right place at the right time. Fire individuals are more prepared to risk, to take that leap into the unknown; either they are a ‘roaring success’ or they ‘get burned’ by the excesses of enthusiasm and rash action. Fire’s ‘knowing’ is not a logical one; it is an intuitive experience that comes from being deeply in touch with the mysterious centre of the self. Aries is a Cardinal Fire sign, and is the most impulsive and pioneering of all three fire signs: spontaneous, outspoken, headstrong, rushing in where angels fear to treat. Leo is a Fixed Fire sign: it has a more stable, regal, kingly quality that manifests well in situations where power and responsibility must be handled wisely. Sagittarius is a Mutable Fire sign, and is keen to fire sparks in all directions on its endless search for meaning and self-discovery.
Earth – Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
Earth is a ‘yin’ element which contains and brings to fruition all the exciting visions of fire. Earth is our solid arena for living and working; no matter what our fantasies and wishes may be, we must stay ‘grounded’ in reality – in the realm of what is possible- if we are to perform at all. Earth is the most stable of the elements, and therefore the earthy individual tends to be practical, sensible, conservative, dependable, capable of running a business or household efficiently and making things grow. From Jung’s perspective, this is the sensation type who approaches life according to material reality: how does it act, taste, feel, measure up in the ‘real’ world? But if an earthy individual lacks fire, then passivity and lack of vision may become a barrier to expanding beyond their known, quantifiable and controllable universe. The earthy type can then be barrow, pedantic, sluggish, obstinate. Fire and Earth make a creative partnership, even though their natures seem fundamentally alien to each other. Taurus is a Fixed Earth sign and is sensual, determined and patient, but also profoundly stubborn when a challenge to the status quo threatens its security. Virgo is a Mutable Earth sign. Virgo’s approach is to analyse the material world and organise things into logical, efficient routines, always with the intention to improve and streamline the status quo. Capricorn is a Cardinal Earth sign. This approach to life is a very ambitious, aspiring one, although Capricorn can sometimes value tradition and conformity to the exclusion of the innovation that keeps life moving forward.
Air – Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
Air, although not as unstable and assertive as Fire, is also an extroverted and animated ‘yang’ element. Air is the all-pervasive element that connects us all through our constantly moving atmosphere. This is the thinking type who seeks the rational principle at work within the operations of nature and human behaviour. Clear, objective reasoning is the great strength of airy individuals, as is their capacity for lively communication. The airy temperament is gregarious but civilised, curious but co-operative, intellectual but casual and often witty, fun-loving and sociable. Although airy individuals enjoy being with others, their interactions have a distinctly impersonal quality. As the all-encompassing element of air might suggest, the airy types likes the extensive experience rather than the intensely intimate encounter. Airy types can rationalise away their discomfort with feelings; but what they lack in emotional commitment they make up for with diplomatic friendliness. Gemini is a Mutable Air sign and loves to sample the amazing variety of people and experiences with a childlike joie de vivre. Libra is a Cardinal Air sign and seeks justice and ideal harmony by balancing its views against many others. Aquarius is a Fixed Air sign and is interested in ideologies that affect humanity. It shares its understanding with friends and is devoted to the common good.
Water – Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Water is the most mysterious and ‘yin’ of the elements. It is cooling, refreshing and nurturing like the spring rain; it can be mysterious and forbidding like the deep blue sea, and also overwhelming and engulfing as in the terror of a flood. Whilst the heat of fire rises, air moves constantly in a steady circling of the earth, and earth slumbers in stillness, water is either contained by its boundaries or penetrates down to the roots. This shows how water is symbolic of empathy and feeling. Water represents our need to merge, to connect at a deep, emotional level; and indeed this element equates with the feeling function in Jung’s typologies. The watery individual is sympathetic and romantic, often governed by mysterious, unfathomable moods. Watery types will often ask ‘does this feel right?’ even though they may not be able to explain their gut reactions in a logical way. Very often this type has a pronounced psychic sensitivity because a very fundamental part of them is ‘plugged’ into the deep, watery matrix that contains us all. Cancer is a Cardinal Water sign and is very cautious but desirous of inclusion and intimacy; it has a tenacious maternal streak and maintains a strong emotional tie with loved ones and with the past. Scorpio is a Fixed Water sign and feels all emotions very intensely. Scorpio operates from a powerful connection with basic instincts and therefore is unafraid of facing the darker human emotions. Pisces is a Mutable Water sign and can easily identify with the whole spectrum of human emotion. Pisces is highly imaginative, chameleon-like, and compassionate.
The Zodiac Signs
The zodiac circle – the path of the Earth’s circumambulation around the Sun – was described by the early 20th-century astrologer Alan Leo as the ‘Earth’s aura’, and as the Earth’s ‘vitasphere’ by the late astrologer Grant Lewi. In other words, the zodiac represents the collective cosmic environment in which the Earth moves and has its being. Each individual living on the Earth is a cell within that collective body and has a unique relationship to the collective. The zodiac, then, is a 12-fold pattern of life experience: each sign symbolises a vital phase of life, an archetypal segment of the whole, as well as a basic personality type. It should be remembered, however, that there is no personality woven from one thread alone and that every person contains all 12 signs – but in different ways and varying combinations. The inner logic of the signs also expresses itself through a correspondence with the human body. The ancient maxim ‘as above, so below’ informs this internal logic, so that we begin to see the wholeness of the greater ‘cosmic being’ and the wholeness of man’s individual being reflected in one another through the symbolism of the zodiac.
The Sun passes through Aries between about 21 March – 19 April
Aries is a positive, Cardinal Fire sign and the one that begins the zodiac with the start of spring. This is the thrusting, raw energy that conquers the cold winter sleep, and this quality is reflected in the Arian instinct for action and leadership. Rules by Mars, the god of war and competition, Aries is daring, impulsive, enterprising, sometimes foolhardy, but always optimistic. Aries is represented by the ram, and in ancient Egypt it was the ram-headed god Ammon who stood for the primitive, self-engendering, creative energy of the world. Bold, dynamic, assertive, the Aries individual, whether male or female, has a distinctly masculine creative drive which takes them into the battle of life with great expectancy. Aries is competitive, restless and independent, desiring immediacy and scope for experiencing their ingenuity and skill. The inner need of Aries is to conquer – either a mythical ogre who threatens something beautiful and fragile, or to conquer fears within themselves. In all their activities, the Aries personality is building – and eager to experience – a core sense of self; that is the great adventure of life. For the Aries individual, this core self consists of repeated experiences of successfully ‘doing’, building up skills and knowledge that give them mastery over existence. These individuals want to feel that they can affect their world. As the sign associated with archetypal beginnings, Aries loves to initiate. Not given to wasting time quibbling over bureaucratic details, Aries pushes ahead with ‘what matters’ and is not worried about the mistakes that could be made through rash action. Not surprisingly, impatience and recklessness are Aries’ Achilles heel. So is the tendency to ride roughshod over their more fragile, needy feelings. Aries loves a difficult challenge and gets bored with too much self-reflection. Aries’ virtue is innate optimism, a positive belief in its abilities to master problems, and an inability to hold a grudge. There is a naivety and vulnerability about Aries that is often hidden underneath a brusque exterior. This may also manifest as an innocence which makes them prey to more cunning types. Aries is loyal and passionately devoted to family and loved ones, although they will always need freedom to pursue their own career and interests. Planets in Aries will express their energies in a bold, enthusiastic, honest way. If Aries is strongly emphasised in your birth chart, much of your life will tend to focus on defining your identity, learning how to assert your will, and achieving recognition for your unique personal characteristics. The double-Aries poet, Algernon Swinburne expressed the Arian thrill of ‘doing’ in this line form ‘The Hymn to Man’:
Glory to Man in the highest! For Man is the master of things.
Aries rules the head and its motto is ‘I am’.
The Sun passes through Taurus between about 20 April – 20 May
Taurus is a negative (or ‘yin’) Fixed Earth sign and represents the solid containing element that nurtures, stabilises and brings to fruition all of nature’s creative potency. The bull is the ancient symbol of Taurus which has universally represented the strength and passion of the earthy, instinctual realm. During the month of May, ancient fertility rites honoured the prolificness and feminine power of the Earth Mother. Taurus is ruled by Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. The Taurean phase of the year is a time of sensual beauty when new colours and vibrant scents pervade the world; no one wants to hurry in the warm, spring sunshine and we can ‘get drunk’ on the luxuriant beauty of nature. The fiery energy of Aries is now grounded and life begins to relax and unfold; the Taurean individual registers the beauty of nature with his senses and slows down to enjoy it all. Remember Ferdinand the Bull sitting amidst the daisies? We can begin to get a feel for the Taurean personality: sensual, easy-going, a lover of beauty and good food, very much in touch with the body and the gratification of basic needs. Emotionally, demonstrative and mentally pragmatic, Taureans make good organisers, teachers, parents – anything that requires care, patience, diligence and down-to-earth common sense. Taureans don’t give up or let go easily; they form deep attachments to loved ones, home and possessions, and they can work lovingly and patiently on projects as if they had an infinite amount of time. They tend to distrust anything they cannot touch, taste or measure, and are famous for their extreme obstinacy. Taureans can literally dig in their heels when challenged, so it’s best just to present the idea (‘plant a seed’) and let them come round to a new shift in themselves in their own good time – just as in nature, there is no hurry! But there is also a proneness to getting stuck in a rut, and to resist even seeing other viewpoints and to devaluing the more subtle, imaginal (unseen, symbolic) realms of human endeavour. They can also become very possessive and materialistic, and their occasional over-indulgence can lead to weight problems. Taurean stubbornness can lea to a very constipated, dead-end state of affairs which then invites the cathartic activity of its opposite sign, Scorpio, to encourage an interest in the ‘rationally unexplainable’ and a desire for regeneration. Venus-ruled Taureans are often very musical and artistic, and display a bawdy sense of humour. Planets in Taurus will express their energies in a calm, earthy, determined way. If Taurus is strongly emphasised in your birth chart, much of your life may focus on substantiating your identity through work, building a solid material base, and enjoying the pleasures of the natural world. The Taurean composer Irving Berlin wrote a song that sums up what Taureans love best: ‘Doing what comes naturally’.
Taurus rules the throat and neck, and its motto is ‘I possess’.
The Sun passes through Gemini between about 21 May – 20 June
Gemini is a positive, Mutable Air sign which takes us into a transition phase of the year: ‘flaming June’ with its endless variety of colours and restless bees and butterflies. Deep Taurean stability gives way to versatility and change, and Gemini is the first sign to rationally perceive the rich spectrum of life forms to be found in the environment. In mythology, the story of the famous twins, Castor and Pollux exemplifies the essentially dual nature of this sign: one twin is a mortal, the other dwells with the gods, and this sibling separation brings both agony and fascination as the twins meet up now and then to compare notes. Studying the fascinating dualities in people and in all aspects of life is something this sign loves to do. Gemini is ruled by Mercury, the ancient god of the intellect and swift communication, which makes this sign a natural communicator, teacher, writer and go-between. Gemini excels at making connections between apparently disparate subjects and people. They can zoom in with insights and witticisms which contain just enough truth to get more stodgy types thinking, and then they’re off again. Like the restless butterfly, Gemini does not want to dwell long on ponderous details. In general, Gemini hates two things: boredom and emotional displays. Geminian energy is notoriously asexual and amoral: examining information from all sides and with a sharp mercurial objectivity gives them the right (they believe!) to contradict themselves many times, if necessary, in order to satisfy curiosity. This is the work of Hermes who dwells forever on the boundaries, linking opposites in unexpected ways. Geminian energy requires mobility and space for experimentation; it is playful, searching, sociable, perceptive, categorising, refreshing, insightful and sometimes annoyingly irresponsible. Being so ‘cerebral’, Gemini finds it difficult relating to its emotional needs and so may unwittingly employ double standards in order to get emotional needs met. Gemini can easily skim the surface of life, and easily gets bored. This is the Peter Pan of the zodiac, forever resisting the commitment of adulthood, forever keeping all options open. If it is ever to embrace the richness of the inner Gemini paradox, Gemini must delve into its darker side – the other twin. Planets in Gemini will express their energies in an alert, restless, rational way. If Gemini is strongly emphasised in your birth chart, you will always need variety and stimulation, and much of your life path will focus on the development of mental concentration and verbal and written communication. The actor John Barrymore was a Gemini and succinctly expressed the Geminian duality and wit:
One of my chief regrets during my years in the theatre is that I couldn’t sit in the audience and watch me.
Gemini rules the arms and hands, and its motto is ‘I communicate’.
The Sun passes through Cancer between about 21 June – 22 July
Cancer is a negative, Cardinal Water sign which marks the beginning of summer, the time of the Sun’s maximum strength. We know Cancer’s symbol is the crab, but in ancient Egyptian times the scarab or dung beetle was associated with this sign. The scarab’s eggs grew in a ball of dung, and for the Egyptians this was a spiritual symbol showing the mysterious process of incarnating life. As the first water sign of the zodiac, Cancer represents the great ocean of life and the emotional bonds which link us to a nuclear family, to a specific past, and because of these roots, also to the future. But the crab is a creature of both sea and land, and this shows the predilection for Cancerian individuals to partake of both watery, imaginative depths as well as the secure homes into which they scuttle when danger appears. The Cancerian’s defences are like the crab’s: a crusty exterior protects a vulnerable interior, and they shift and manoeuvre around a problem until, feeling safe enough to ponder and brood upon it, they come up with a shrewd but always fair solution. Ruled by the Moon, Cancerians are very emotional and their moods wax and wane with an irrational, unfathomable logic. One minute they may be clear-headed, affectionate and helpful, the next minute dreamy or sulking and withdrawn. Like the cycles of the Moon and the tides of the sea, there is an emotional coherence and timing to their feeling states, and when they emerge from a period of mysterious brooding they are at their most creative. Cancerian characteristics include sensitivity, intuition, compassion, devotion, and a deep urge to be needed and appreciated. But Cancer is not only poetic and imaginative; it is also a sign with a shrewd business sense and an ability to understand and work well with the tides of economic change. They often have an uncanny capacity to intuit public sentiment, and so can manipulate or use this talent to good effect in writing, journalism and public affairs. Cancerian energy needs something to nurture and fuss over, like a mother hen. This ‘something’ can range from a house full of children, to a class of aspiring students, to a growing business or a novel or musical score. Essentially, cancerians need to feel they are part of something, and that the people or projects they are tending with their emotional energy are developing, growing, thriving, coming alive with the life they have given. Planets in Cancer will express their energies in a sensitive, emotional, cautious way. If Cancer is strongly emphasised in your birth chart, you will seek to understand your emotional links with a living past so that you may best express your place within the family of man. The American songwriter Stephen Foster was a Cancerian who wrong songs that reflected the poignant yearnings of this sign, in particular his famous ‘My Old Kentucky Home’.
Cancer rules the breast and the stomach, and its motto is ‘I belong’.
The Sun passes through Leo between about 23 July – 22 August
Leo is a positive, Fixed Fire sign which corresponds to that phase in the yearly cycle when the sun’s rays are most concentrated. Leo’s ruling deity is the Sun, the centre and driving force of our solar system. During this period we can feel the sun’s force as its fierce radiance embraces the environment in a baking stillness. The creative power of the Sun is symbolised by the kingly lion, a noble and dangerous beast whose rule is thwarted at the peril of any transgressor. In ancient Egypt it was the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet who symbolised the intuitive power and might of the solar deity. Leo is concerned with the unique creative gift of individuality, the need for recognition and respect shown towards that unique selfhood, and the desire to contribute authentically to the larger group. Leo is the hero or heroine who is seeking to fulfil his or her own destiny, and this all-consuming concern often makes them mythologise their life. The solar energy that fuels our solar system is a potent metaphor for this zodiacal phase of human development: the energy source for life is the innermost self, the spiritual essence, and it is felt that contact with this centre ensures that one’s life will be not only magnificent, but also one’s own. Not unlike the child who has discovered his ability to create, the Leo personality wants to be a centre of late whose warm rays are reflected back in an appreciative glow. This highlights a difference between Leo and the first fire sign Aries, for Leo is acutely aware of its impact on others and needs positive interaction and affirmation; whereas Aries is less needful of social feedback and usually prefers to pursue its goals alone. Leonine energy is loyal, steadfast, and exudes confidence and largesse, but equally it can become dogmatic, arrogant and tyrannical. Strongly Leonine personalities are extremely subjective and self-absorbed and often invite rude reminders from others that the outer world does not revolve around them in the same way it does in their imaginations. But their intense idealism and commitment to the highest in themselves makes them fine leaders and organisers; their innate understanding of myth and drama very often draws them to professions involved with the theatre. Leo needs a big canvas on which to splash, play and mould the meaning of his or her life. Without that personal meaning, life is simply not worth living for this kingly, radiant beast. Planets in Leo will express their energies in a wholehearted and authoritative way. If you have Leo strongly emphasised in your chart, much of your life will focus on expressing the radiance of your unique self and gaining recognition for your contribution to the collective. Theologian Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed a Leonine perception when he said that ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God’.
Leo rules the heart and its motto is ‘I create’.
The Sun passes through Virgo between about 23 August – 23 September
Virgo is a negative, Mutable Earth sign whose place in the zodiacal cycle signifies another transition phase. Virgo in Latin means ‘virgin’ and indeed the maiden or virgin goddess is the mascot or the sixth sign. Virgin in this sense means ‘sufficient unto oneself’, or not depending on any other being in deity for one’s purpose or wellbeing. The essence of Virgo is linked with the sacred integrity of the earth itself, and the intelligent laws of nature which, when respected by humans, allow us to cultivate and enjoy a wide variety of plants and herbs with nutritional, healing powers. This highlights the energy of Virgo’s astrological ruler, Mercury, the god of intellect and intelligent co-ordination. Whereas Taurus, the first Earth sign, represents the deep fecundity and power of the earth, Virgo exemplifies the efficiency of earth and the delicate sophistication of the web of life when Nature’s laws are respected and applied. The Virgo personality expresses this principle in the need to be usefully engaged with his or her environment, and in order to do this Virgo will study, acquire knowledge and master the skills necessary to lead a useful, productive life. Virgoan qualities include quiet ingenuity, a desire to serve and to improve, versatility, analytical and critical thinking, self-doubt, modesty and self-sufficiency. In contrast to Leo’s need for recognition, Virgo’s deepest satisfaction comes from knowing he or she has done a job well. Further, in terms of Virgo’s relationship to the kingly sign that precedes it, Virgo’s role is to take the fiery essence of ‘self’ and refine it and consecrate it in services to their world. This Virgoan tendency to work hard in order to improve can make this individual very serious and self-critical: perfectionism is their aspiration and Achilles heel. Over-identification with work and obsessive perfectionism can create irritability and health problems, and often Virgo has to learn to take time out for frivolous enjoyment – something that does not come easy to this sign. Virgoan energy is discriminating and ordering, and there is a love of classification and system, and consequently a fear of chaos when things don’t go to plan. Being adept at ordering, categorising, and serving, Virgo is attracted to roles involving organisation, practical analysis, and often health care. But this same talent for precise focus and practical skill also makes Virgo an exceptionally fine craftsman and artist. Planets in Virgo will express their energies in a practical and conscientious way. If Virgo is strongly emphasised in your chart, to a large extent your life will focus on making the daily round a ritual of service, on streamlining your talents, and mastering skills which bring greater efficiency and enjoyment in work. Count Tolstoy (both Sun and Moon in Virgo) expressed an archetypal Virgoan sentiment when he said:
The happiness of man consists in life, and life is in labour ... the Vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people.
Virgo rules the digestive system and its motto is ‘I perfect and serve’.
The illustrations used in this chapter are 15th century symbols of the zodiac as presented in Poeticon Astronomicon de Mudi et Sphaera (1482). That the glyphs for Scorpio and Libra, the Scorpion and the Scales, are joined is testimony to an ancient legend about these two signs once being represented by a single figure. This imagery relates to the constellation of these signs rather than to the tropical zodiac. Libra has been called ‘chelae’ or ‘claws of the scorpion’, or we can imagine that Scorpio’s emotional intensity is a reaction to the balance and rational objectivity of Libra.
The Sun passes through Libra between about 24 September – 23 October
Libra is a positive Cardinal Air sign and, like Aries, its opposite sign, it ushers in the time of equinoctial balance. But whilst Aries gives birth to the new life of spring, Libra offers thanksgiving for the beauty and harvest which is reaped in the autumn as the yearly cycle of nature is nearing its end. Libra is ruled by Venus, the planet of harmony, social relationships and etiquette, love and beauty. In Egyptian mythology the goddess Maat represents this Libran principle: her activity was to weigh the hearts of the dead on the scales of truth; if there was proper balance, the soul could continue on its journey into eternity. It is this ideal balance in all things to which Libra aspires which is why one of their dominant qualities is idealism. Librans value equality and justice, and yet to achieve this end – to redress an imbalance – they may go to great lengths. An example of this is the Libran Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who sought to rectify political and economic imbalances that had come about through many years of socialist governments. Another famous Libran political activist whose role was to fight extreme social injustice was Lech Walesa, the Polish trade unionist. Librans may be sweet-tempered and generally easy-going, but that belies the feistiness that lies beneath the surface and which likes to stir things up in relationships in order to get a response, in order to find out what step of the social dance everyone’s – including their own – foot happens to be in. Libra’s glyph can be seen as a setting sun, indicating that at this point in the zodiacal cycle all that has gone before to build an individual self (Aries through Virgo) must now be taken into the world to meet the ‘other’ and to know itself in the world. Librans tend to be interested in people and often become very adept at managing people and getting the best out of them. In fact, Librans have a strong need to relate to others, to be in dialogue with an important ‘other’, for this is the way they find out who they are and what they think and feel. Libra’s need for others makes them more dependent than they appear, but Libra’s instinct is always to define themselves in relation to an-‘other’. Trying to consider many different viewpoints can make Libra chronically indecisive, and the need to keep the peace frequently forces others to respond with firmness, even anger. Being an air sign, Libra prefers to rationally observe and discuss in an appropriate, respectful, civilised manner. Their idealism may take them into law and politics where they can pursue and, as in the case of Walesa, even fight for the ideals they believe in. Librans seek to communicate and may also express their creative struggle with dualistic paradoxes (self and other, male and female, good and evil, light and dark) through literature, theatre and art. Planets in Libra will express their energies in a civilised, considered, co-operative way. If Libra is strongly emphasised in your chart, you will invest a great deal of personal energy in the dynamics of friendships and relationships, and these will be both a challenge and a source of great nourishment as you struggle to define yourself. Oscar Wilde expressed characteristic Libran style and wit, and one quote for which he is well known reveals his Libran insistence and social comportment:
It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
Libra rules the kidneys, and its motto is ‘I balance’.
The Sun passes through Scorpio between about 23 October – 21 November
Scorpio is a negative Fixed Water sign whose phase in the year in the northern hemisphere corresponds with the decrease of sunlight and the decaying of nature. The connection of this sign with the revivifying powers of matter is crucial to understanding its mysterious essence. Scorpio’s ancient ruler, Mars, symbolises willpower and combative strength, something Scorpio has in abundance. But since the discovery of Pluto, observations have shown that this planet has a more obvious affinity with the secretive and regenerative side of Scorpio. a sign which is known for its intense feeling nature and its unshakeable determination to achieve self-mastery. Scorpio’s mascot is the scorpion, a creature of the night which will attack itself when cornered. Although this reflects Scorpio’s instinct to retaliate, it also signifies Scorpio’s extreme willpower and ability to survive life’s most dangerous and painful experiences. Scorpio has another mascot, too – the eagle, a bird of great ferocity and strength. It symbolises Scorpio’s potential to overcome negative emotions and self-destructive tendencies. Scorpio is intensely emotional and powerfully aware of the more primitive emotions of human nature. Most notable of the many ancient myths that involve creatures of the ‘dark mother’ is the poisonous nine-headed hydra that lives in a dark, swampy cave. This is an image of the power of instinctual life and the danger man risks in denying or repressing it. Scorpio grapples with this side of reality, and strives to develop the emotional courage to look at the darker side of life in order not to be deprived of the whole truth. And whatever ‘hydra’ is found within the human psyche, Scorpio has the courage and wisdom to confront it so that ultimately it can be healed and regenerated. Just as the decaying mulch of autumn leaves eventually enriches the soil, Scorpio senses the hidden capacity for new life and usefulness in the rejected and maimed souls of humanity. Scorpio’s intensity can be experienced by others as demanding and overwhelming. All the same, this is their gift: they magnify emotions because they know that emotional truth is the hardest – and the most important – part of being human. Because they feel so intensely, they also have a fear of being controlled, and this gives rise to their secretiveness and mysterious charisma. But equal to their self-protection is their extraordinary commitment and devotion to those they love. Because their traits are underpinned by such intensity of feeling, their negative characteristics appear excessive: possessive, revengeful, manipulative. But when they turn their exacting gaze on themselves, their courageous honesty and perceptiveness pays off for they thrive on the discovery of their hidden depth. Their fascination with human nature and power often takes them into medicine, psychology and politics. Although often silent, seemingly cynical, and not apparently prepossessing to meet at first, when they engage intimately with others, or find themselves in a confrontation, all their passions take over and they will fight ‘to the death’ for something in which they believe. Hilary Clinton is a classic Scorpio who puts up a fierce fight for her beliefs as well as her position, even if it requires her to endure the sexual intrigues of her husband. As a water sign, Scorpio is painfully aware of human vulnerability and therefore of the need to protect the defenceless and to avenge abusers. Planets in Scorpio will express their energies in a guarded but persistent way. If Scorpio is strongly emphasised in your birth chart, you will seek to probe and understand the intensities of human relationships and the complexities of the human appetite. Bram Stoker (a double Scorpio), the author of Dracula, expressed Scorpionic themes in his work; the following quote, taken from that novel, gives a clear hint:
Ah, sir, you dwellers in the city cannot enter into the feelings of the hunter.
Scorpio rules the genitals and excretory system, and its motto is ‘I regenerate’.
The Sun passes through Sagittarius between about 22 November – 21 December
Sagittarius is a positive Mutable Fire sign whose symbol is the half-man half-horse centaur clutching his bow and arrow and aiming towards some distant goal. Zeus, the great god of Olympus, presides over this sign through the embodiment of the planet Jupiter. Zeus was called ‘the father of gods and men’; this conveys Sagittarius’s very masculine type of creativity and an emphasis on the activity of the intellect. One unforgettable facet of Zeus is his predilection for pursuing many paramours. This is an image of his prolific creativity and it is this that underpins the identity of this individual: the sense that he or she can pursue what at one point feels like the impossible and move forward into more exciting, more meaningful horizons. Sagittarius is full of aspirations, and the journey of turning them into reality is what they enjoy most. This questing impulse makes them great travellers, for there is a deep love of learning and meeting new cultures. An open, benevolent approach enables them to embrace strangers as old friends, and they are genuinely interested in the belief patterns that make people act and live in certain ways. Sagittarian energy is restless, explorative, optimistic, always seeking to understand – but in a different way than Virgo or Gemini, two other mutable signs who seek detail and category. Sagittarius takes the fiery theme of Aries and Leo and projects it out into the world through its search for the larger pattern underlying social behaviour. A major theme for Sagittarius is the search for meaning, and whether or not this expresses through superficial or serious avenues, it keeps Sagittarius active and enthusiastically seeking all his life. A dilemma that comes from this search for meaning is the struggle with certainty: discovering universal laws gives them confidence that justice is possible, but the truth that informs the different moral systems of the world is inevitably infinite and beyond classification. Independent, proud, boisterous, the Sagittarian type needs plenty of space for experimentation and play, both in matters of career and of the heart. Although they will rebel against stuffy society and meaningless rules, there is an innate respect for strong individuals whose spiritual integrity and honesty shines out. This respect for integrity informs their behaviour – allegiance is an expression of love for Sagittarius. They are not good at pretending. Sagittarian energy is warm, friendly, alert, helpful, but can also be bombastic, careless and flighty. Their love for the large and dramatic means they can be sloppy and depend on generalisations and argumentation. So huge is the sense of potential they carry within, they can drastically over-promise and over-extend with too many irons in the fire. When they meet their mortal limits, their arrows come down to earth and depression may take over whilst they learn to adapt to the demands of the world. Their resilience and faith in life’s bounty usually wins in the end. Planets in Sagittarius will express their energies in an open, warm and spontaneous way. If Sagittarius is strongly emphasised in your chart, your life may be dominated by some kind of quest for meaning which impels you to reach far beyond the boundaries of normal existence. The Sagittarius author and satirist Mark Twain expressed this sign’s restless, ironic mind and irrepressible spirit in his work, and about truth he wrote:
Why shouldn’t truth the stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make some sense.
Sagittarius rules the thighs and its motto is ‘I aspire’.
The Sun passes through Capricorn between about 22 December – 19 January
Capricorn is a negative Cardinal Earth sign which marks the winter solstice and the beginning of the slow increase of sunlight. In the northern hemisphere this is the point of most limited light, when activity within the natural world is still, the life force having withdrawn to prepare silently, within the tomb of the earth, for rebirth at spring. Capricorn’s symbol is the fish-goat, indicating the ancient origins of this most ambitious and determined of the Earth signs. Another mythical goat figure is that of the Greek god Pan who stood for the wild fertility of nature. The mountain goat is more commonly associated with Capricorn, representing this sign’s upwardly-mobile aspirations, as well as the giddy goat’s more sensual nature. Capricorn’s ruling planet is Saturn, the god of structure, authority, responsibility and tradition. Saturn also represents the ‘golden age’, a mythical time of perfect order, when spiritual purpose is married with material form to produce the highest possible objective world order. The Capricorn personality is hard-working, cautious, serious and reserved, intent on understanding and constructively applying the wisdom of the past in order to build a secure future. Wanting to build things that last, Capricorn is not easily discouraged by difficult challenges. This is an individual with definite aims, someone who is not interested in ‘easy’ tasks or empty praise. Success may be measured by material security and position, but Capricorn places even greater importance on having endured a long, testing commitment which proves his or her stamina and ability. Such serious staying power often makes it hard for Capricorn to relax and enjoy life. They want to be occupied with purposeful activities and difficult challenges which are grist to their mill. Early in life the Capricorn individual seems filled with adult concerns and will often take on responsibilities within the family which weigh heavily on the soul. But it is practical experience which teaches them and gives them the confidence they crave. Dependable and loyal, Capricorns keep their promises and make excellent leaders. However, the weak Capricorn, driven by a powerful need for recognition, can slip into the ‘end-justifies-the-means’ syndrome before realising that his or her empire has been built on faulty foundations. Failure of any kind is hard to bear, for their inner critic tends to be more exacting than any external authority figure they have known. Saturn’s rulership emphasises this sign’s concern with order, duty and discipline. Preferring to idle their vulnerability, Capricorns often endure periods of real gloom and struggle on their own. As they get older and more secure in their capabilities, Capricorn paradoxically grows younger and more playful. Because their maturity and wisdom comes from years of hard experience, their advice is valued highly. Planets in Capricorn will express their energies in a controlled, efficient, prudent way. If Capricorn is strongly emphasised in your chart, you will spend a great deal of your life defining and pursuing professional ambitions of which you can be proud. Stephen Hawking’s life is testimony to the hardy Capricorn spirit: he overcame great physical obstacles to pursue his pioneering work in astronomy. He wrote:
The progress of the human race in understanding the universe has established a small corner of order in an increasingly disordered universe.
Capricorn rules the bones and skeletal system, and its motto is ‘I order’.
The Sun passes through Aquarius between about 20 January – 18 February
Aquarius is the positive Fixed Air sign that brings the yearly phase when we behold a vast, still world in the depths of winter. The symbol for Aquarius is the Water-bearer, the urn of the flowing water of life. In both Sumerian and Egyptian mythologies, great sky goddesses poured forth healing waters. The symbol for the Egyptian goddess Nut was a round vase, and in the Celtic tradition the Aquarian urn is linked with the cauldron of the goddess Cerridwen, which bestowed the gift of prophecy. But Aquarius is an Air sign whose nourishing draught is truth itself as embodied in universal ideals. This sign takes a broad humanitarian view of what society could be. Aquarius is ruled by both Saturn and Uranus. Its Saturnian influence gives Aquarius its value of principles and the laws of thought; its Uranian side is both futuristic and individualistic, for Aquarius wants to ensure that those same laws, supporting the framework of society, protect the rights and dignity of each individual. As a personality, Aquarius is intellectual, unconventional, visionary, often scientific, independent and usually altruistic. These individuals have an anarchic streak and are interested in leaderless, egalitarian communities. Friendship is their matrix – friendship and truth – and they are drawn to new people with an openness and curiosity that is both liberating and at times exasperating. This is because so often Aquarius is not aware of their own emotional need, nor of the more subtle nuances of emotional relationships. Although friendly, gregarious and progressive, Aquarius can become rigid and doctrinaire in their beliefs due to their unshakeable faith in ideals. A certain naivety and benign eccentricity makes the Aquarian individual a natural catalyst in groups, for they challenge assumptions and wake people up. The Aquarian monk Thomas Merton, who challenged the traditional Trappist way of living, was described as ‘a question demanding an answer’. Aquarian idealism is not always easy to live with, and ironically they are often loners, more at home with their ideas and principles than their feelings. Although Aquarians are independent people who need a lot of space for self-expression, they are not without passion. It’s just that they find it easier to express this in politics or collective movements than in one-to-one relationships. Planets in Aquarius will express their energies in a dispassionate, thoughtful, independent way. If Aquarius is strongly emphasised in your chart, you will seek a truthful, meaningful role in a social group, and you may need to risk being the outsider, or challenging the status quo, in order to contribute to the greater good. Thomas Merton wrote many books, and in his monastic and wider collective life embodied the Aquarian idea, which is expressed beautifully in his words:
I am the incarnation of everybody and the zones of reassurance ... I live in the social cages of joy.
Aquarius rules the lower legs and the circulation, and its motto is ‘I reform’.
The Sun passes through Pisces between about 19 February – 20 March
Pisces is a negative Mutable Water sign which brings us to the phase just preceding the advent of spring. In the northern hemisphere, daylight is increasing the stirrings of new life can be felt, bringing an anticipation of renewal. Just as we long to celebrate life vanquishing the darkness of winter (as we do in the ancient ritual we know as Easter), Pisces has a longing for eternity, where it can merge with life in the oceanic depths. The symbol for Pisces is the two fishes, each swimming in a different direction, symbolising the conflictual urges of man’s instincts versus his immortal spirit. Neptune, the god of the sea, is the ruler of this sign, suggesting that the depths of the collective unconscious hold the buried treasure of Pisces’ imagination. Pisces grapples with the duality of human nature – its darkness and its light, its transience and its lasting beauty. Pisces contains many contradictions and possibilities which enable it to identify with the entire spectrum of human experience: the saint, the sage, the siren, the sinner. Jesus was known as ‘the father of men’ whose love and compassion gave him the power to sacrifice his earthly life for all humanity. Many Pisceans have a similar self-sacrificing, forgiving, compassionate nature and are capable of emotionally identifying with the plight of the suffering. But they can also sacrifice their fondest dreams due to vacillation and lack of confidence. Although there is a sensual, sociable, happy-go-lucky side to this sign. Piscean individuals usually protect a very private part of their soul which needs to commune with their dreams and fantasies. This side of Pisces dislikes exactitude; defining themselves in too literal a way feels deadening, and as a result they can suddenly drift away and sometimes miss opportunities through aimlessness. Because Pisces is the last sign, its ego impulses often veer towards disengagement with life: all the different options and roles in life seem equally valid. This turning away from self-expression can take a more despairing route, such as in alcoholism or drug addiction. Or conversely, Pisces may seek to relieve a similar despair in others through service in the healing professions. This sign is very receptive to the emotional currents in others, is intuitive, psychic, and seeks to communicate its perceptions to the world. Theatre offers an ideal platform for Pisces; here Pisces can move in and out of different identities with ease. Planets in Pisces will express their energies in a diffuse and sensitive way. If Pisces is strongly emphasised in your chart, you will need to find a creative voice to express your experience of the beauty, pain and duality of life. The psychic Arthur Guirdham, with both Sun and Moon in Pisces, expressed a uniquely Piscean perspective when he said:
Joy is the voice of the escaped psyche.
Pisces rules the feet, and its motto is ‘I redeem’.